Only Two Weeks To Go!

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What?! Where did all the time go? It’s such a strange feeling to admit that my time here is coming to an end very quickly, when I feel like my time thinking about and planning for this trip lasted years and years. And now only 2 weeks left? Oh my gosh…

However, there is another feeling in me that I have expressed to a couple of my friends and family, and that is a whole new appreciation for home – for North Carolina, for the south, for the feeling of being in a place that I know, and where people know me. Until living here in Russia for three months, I didn’t realize how lucky I was to call North Carolina home, and how much pride and privilege I feel for being from the south, and being raised the way that I was. I didn’t realize how many different places in North Carolina meant so much to me, and how much character our state has. As much as I don’t want my big adventure to be over, I’m looking forward to coming home with a new perspective of the place where I was born and raised, and all the special qualities about it.

Anyway, the past two weeks have been good! Two weekends ago was Easter. People who identify as Russian Orthodox do celebrate Easter, and so it was really interesting to see how their celebration is different from ours. First, on Saturday night at midnight, everyone goes to mass (I’m not sure if that’s what they call it, but we’ll just call it that for now). And the priest and clergymen have a very long ritual that they do, which starts with leading the congregation outside and around the the whole church; and everyone is saying this chant and most people are carrying candles. The clergymen are all dressed up in very brightly colored, ornate robes, and they carry incense and long golden staff with a cross at the top, among other things. When they finally reenter the church, they continue chanting for a while, and then only the priest will speak, and the congregation periodically responds and crosses themselves. And as always, Russian Orthodox services are standing, as in, nobody sits down the whole entire time. And services can be quite long! Even my friends and I didn’t stay for the whole service. People have also been fasting for Lent, and I mean, truly giving up most foods (which, in Russia, it’s not like they start with a whole lot of options…), so the people of the congregation are truly supposed to be having a very spiritual moment during the service. And after the service is over, they go home and eat a big holiday meal that they have been preparing for, and break their fast. They also have a phrase that I heard and saw around often which was “Христос Воскресе” to which one would respond “Воистину Воскресе,” which means, “Christ has risen” “Truly, he has risen.” Often times just “ХВ” would be drawn in the icing on their Easter cake, or painted onto eggs, or something small like that. So, then, on Sunday, they dye eggs! However, they typically dye eggs by putting dry onion peel in boiling water, and then putting the eggs in, which turns the eggs either a dark reddish or brownish color. Also, Easter is not marketed the way it is here. There’s practically nothing anywhere to show that Easter is coming, as opposed to in America where there is Easter everything, everywhere, starting a month before the holiday. The one thing you will see about Easter is in bakeries! They have this special Easter cake, called кулич (kulich) which is a fairly dry cake with white icing on the top and colorful sprinkles. My teacher said it’s not made for the taste, just the tradition; and perhaps she’s right. My babyshka made one and I got to try a little piece of it, and I can’t even remember what it tasted like. So, that was Easter in Russia!

Last weekend our whole group went to Veliky Novgorod, which is a city about 3-4 hours by bus from Saint Petersburg. I don’t have a whole lot to say about it… We didn’t have that great of a tour, which is really unfortunate. I don’t even know if I want to try to describe our day. It’s just a really really old city that has a lot of old cathedrals and exhibits on how Russians might have lived during the medieval period. I think that’s the best I can do. I think the city has a lot to offer, and if it were up to me, I think I would spend at least two days there exploring all the old cathedrals and fort and really learn about those places.

This past Wednesday, our whole group went to the Baltika Beer Brewery! It might be the biggest beer brewery in Europe (although I just got that fact off Wikipedia) and it’s headquarters are here in Saint Petersburg, and I went there! It was really neat. I’ve never been to a beer brewery even in America, so it was a first for me. It was gigantic. I mean, everything about that place was gigantic. Our tour guide was super cool, and the tour wasn’t very long. He told us about how the beer is made, and about the different awards their beer has won internationally, and about how they distribute the beer, and a little bit about beer throughout history. And then… we had a beer tasting. So almost 20 of us are divided between three tables, and we a given a stack of plastic cups, and our guide comes by with one bottle of beer per table for us to share and taste. I think some of the beers we tasted were new, or ones that they made in smaller batches, but then others were regular ones that are widely distributed. So we had about 5 or 6 bottles like that, and then all of a sudden the guide says, “Okay, well you have 10 minutes to clean out the refrigerators.” And then just sat there. Everyone was so hesitant, we were just looking at each other like, “What?… Does he mean…?” Um. Yeah. He let a group of broke-ass college students have a beer free-for-all for 10 to 15 minutes. CAN YOU IMAGINE THE CRAZY. I’ll tell you what, that was one fun bus ride on the way back home! I felt so weird about it though! Like… so greedy for wanting as much free beer as a I could drink in 10 minutes! Ahh! It was so strange but so fun. Definitely one of the best excursions our group has gone on.

On Thursday was my friend Clare’s 22nd birthday! We went to all of our favorite places around the city for lunch and dinner and in-between, and then for drinks that night, Clare chose to go to the Wild Oscar bar, which wasn’t very far from where we live. She really loves Oscar Wilde, so that’s why she chose it. So we go there and we have some drinks and then a live band starts up! And you wouldn’t believe what their sound was – rockabilly! Hahaha! The only song I distinctly remember them playing was Cocaine by Eric Clapton, but I know they played two songs about the south and I was just having a ball. Clare and I got the party started, of course, and danced like 1 inch from the band almost the whole night. I guess I should mention that these were older Russian men in this band, and their English was not quite so great, so it was just so funny to be at this particular bar, in Russia, listening to this particular music. I’m laughing now just thinking about it, but I don’t know if I can quite describe just how funny and non-sensical it seemed to us. But anyway, we had a great night together!

Then Friday, my house-sister Lena, Clare, Tasha, Zack, and I all went to Krondshdat for the day, which is a suburb of Saint Petersburg. It was about 2 hours by bus, and on the way there it was snowing hard, and then raining, and I was about ready to just turn around and go right back home. But then as soon as we arrived, the sun came out and it was a beautiful day! I was so glad and relieved. And Krondshdat ended up being an absolutely beautiful place! It’s an island, and it’s historically important to Saint Petersburg because of naval and trading purposes. Their main sight to see is this gigantic cathedral, simply called the Naval Cathedral, which was recently restored. It was so unlike any other cathedrals we have seen in Russia. It was very bright and open, which is simply normally the exact opposite of cathedrals here. We spent a decent amount of time in there just looking around and enjoying this refreshing, beautiful sight. Other sights we saw were the lighthouse (but you can’t climb up to the top or anything), the tide gauge, “which is a zero level for the Baltic system of altitudes. All depths and altitudes (even the heights of spacecraft) in Russia and other countries are measured from this sea gauge,” according to one source. Isn’t that neat? In general, the architecture of the city is beautiful – the old boathouses and library and other cathedrals. And there are many paths that run by the canals that are nice to walk along as we were touring the city. Being there was definitely one of my favorite days in Russia.

Alrighty, so that’s all for now! This weekend we are finally going to Peterhof – probably the most famous place outside of Saint Petersburg proper, where Peterhof Palace is located – the palace that rivals Versailles.

See everybody soon!

P.S. Since I’m a terrible step-daughter and forgot to say this a long time ago – HAPPY BIRTHDAY DAVIE!  :)  Sorry I forgot.  :(  But I can make it up to you when I get home by making you so proud of my new classic, southern music appreciation! Love you lots and can’t wait to see you soon!

Another Update – Guess What?!

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I HAVE INTERNET!

So… perhaps my situation here isn’t quite so bad. I think I was feeling overwhelmed because I was primarily frustrated with my lack of ability to communicate, and it made everything else seem that much more frustrating and difficult. But I talked to my resident director Matt about it this afternoon, and he told me some things that I think I needed to hear and reminded me of why I chose to come to this country in the first place. Then he walked me to the electronics store and we bought this modem thing that I simply plug into my computer and voila! Now, I am connected! Ughhh… thanks Matt, and all friends and family, for listening to me and responding to my troubles. I also feel the need to clarify, because I was probably being unfair yesterday afternoon – my family is truly very sweet and kind, and when I first came here, I really enjoyed being in their company. I know they want me to be comfortable here, and for the most part I really am. I think I was just getting more and more disillusioned about being here without really realizing that I wasn’t feeling so… go-with-the-flow anymore. But now I feel much relief, and my mom reminded me today that I only have 30 days left here. THIRTY! I mean, I’ve been dreaming of being here for years, and now I only have a few days  left?! Oh my gosh… I am definitely going to make the most of my time here from this day forward. Which, I do believe I have been making the most of my time here since day one, but… now with a better mind-set.

This evening I went to the Mariinsky Theater with Clare and Tasha and Zach! It was… oh my gosh. How do you describe watching a world renowned ballet? I think I can say with much certainty that I will never see a human being do anything more beautiful in my life. Giselle is such an interesting ballet in and of itself, because of Giselle’s freak-out scene, and then the haunting scene where “the Willis” enter the stage… wow. I have never seen anything so graceful and beautiful in my life. It was just incredible being there. And the theater itself is beautiful on the inside and out! I’m thinking I might try to see one more ballet while I am here. What an opportunity!

That’s all for now, but expect to be reading habitually – for real this time!

 

An Update – Finally.

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Dear family and friends,

I suppose I should apologize for my lack of communication lately. Since I’ve moved into my home-stay things have been a little difficult. Let me tell about my apartment and my family.

Well, like I’ve mentioned, my apartment is a 25-minute walk from the metro, and a 35 or 40-minute walk from my university. My bedroom is fine, kind of small, but mostly okay. My bed is a futon, and it’s basically comparable to lying on wood boards covered in felt. A sleeping bag is what I was given to cover with at night; lately it’s been hot in my room, but I’m afraid to leave the window open at night because I don’t want bugs to crawl/fly in, and there is no screen.  I have a desk, but I can’t really use it as a working space because it’s right next to my wardrobe (whose doors don’t quite close), so there’s no space for me to use the left side of myself. The shower has always had hot water, and I’m glad for that. However, there is no little holder thing to attach the shower-head to the ceiling, so I feel like it takes me forever to shower because I’m constantly picking up and putting down the shower-head and rinsing myself off, because I feel like I dry off as I’m trying to wash. Also, the water continues to run from the spigot even when the shower-head is on, and for some reason, when the water coming out of the shower-head is the perfect temperature, the water coming out of the spigot is scalding hot, so I have to make sure to stand on the opposite end of the tub and not touch the water. In our kitchen, we have a stove that has three working burners, and an oven that I’m not sure works. We don’t have a microwave, or a dishwasher, or a washing machine, or a dryer; and of course, we can’t drink the water that comes from the faucet. To do laundry, I have to lug all of my dirty clothes to school to use the washing machines in the dorm I lived in before. We have one television, which is in the living room, which is also somebody’s bedroom. Therefore, I don’t really feel comfortable being in there when nobody is home. I feel like I need an invitation to be in there with them during teatime. We also have one computer, which is in a different bedroom. It is not really available for me to use. Yesterday as my house mom was walking out of the door, I asked her if I could use the computer while she was out, and she said yes, and then left; when I went in there to use it, there was no keyboard to be found anywhere.  We have wi-fi, but no password.

So, when I am at home, I have my books, and a dictionary, and my homework to entertain me. I feel very secluded, and very cutoff, and very lonely there. The only person in the house I can really talk to is my house mom, Tatiana, but you know… she’s a working adult, and I’m her college-age house-guest for two and a half months, so we’re not the best of friends. Being there makes me feel very ready to come home to America, and it’s a really sad and unfortunate feeling to have, since I waited and worked so damn long to be here.

However, through all of this, I don’t think I have ever outwardly showed them how uncomfortable I am there. I think I’ve been a very good houseguest to them. Then, this past Friday evening, I brought my friend over for two hours, from about 9 p.m. until 11 p.m., and then she left. And then the following morning, Saturday, my babyshka said something to me about having her over! I couldn’t understand her, but I the feeling between us didn’t feel good. So now, I feel like for the duration of my stay here, I’m also not allowed to have people over! So I can’t communicate with anyone, can’t entertain myself in anyway, can’t bring anyone home with me for a little while. UGHHH! That was absolutely the last straw for me. I’m a 21-year-old college student living in a country where I don’t speak the language and left every person in this world that I know behind, and I’m expected to live like a monk and be okay? I can’t have anyone to talk to or communication with anyone? It’s ridiculous, and it’s not real life. I have no idea what’s going on in the outside world. I didn’t know anything about the mysterious missing airplane until March 21st – TWO WEEKS after it was lost. I had no idea. I have no idea what’s going on in the Ukraine, or Crimea, or between Obama and Putin. I didn’t watch a single Olympic event. It’s hard for me to describe, but I am ONLY aware of what is immediately in front of and around me all the time. I don’t ever see televisions, I can’t read the newspapers, I have no access to internet, I have no way of contacting my friends and family back at home on an regular (forget immediate) basis, and I can’t even contact my friends here! I can’t understand the conversations that people are having as we pass each other on the sidewalks. Many times, it’s just my thoughts and me.

And so, to use internet, I make the trek to this same McDonald’s, which is now 35 minutes away from me. So that’s what I’ve been up to lately, and that’s how things are going here. Truly, it makes me feel like a failure. I always knew without a doubt that I wanted to do a home-stay in Russia, and I wanted to live an authentic Russian life. And now I am, and it turns out to be so difficult and disconnected. It makes me feel like I’m just a typical American who is used to a certain level of comfort and can’t cope with something a little less convenient. But truly all the other things aren’t such a problem. It’s just the loneliness thing that really gets me down. I LOVE being in class because it gives me the tiniest amount of time to talk to someone about what I do everyday, and what I think about. Of course I spend time with Clare every day, but I just wish my home-stay life wasn’t so extreme. I can’t not be at home all the time; all of my things are there, my groceries are there… But I can’t stay there by myself all afternoon and evening and just slowly slip into this sad, lonely, uncomfortable feeling everyday.

One day I was getting ready to walk out of the door for the day, and my babyshka was too, and I think she was just going out to take the trash out, not going far. I saw the trash-bag sitting near the door, and so, with all of my things, ready to go out, I grabbed a piece of trash from my room, and bent over to put it in the trashcan, when all of a sudden — НЕТ НЕТ НЕТ НЕТ НЕТ ШЕЛБИ! OH MY GOD WHAT?! Jesus… she freaked out! and scared me to death. I think what happened was that she thought I was going to take the trash out for her, and she was simply telling me, “No no no, Shelby, I’ll do it.” But it was just such a startling reaction! See, good Lord, I can’t even throw a piece of trash away without it being a thing. Not exaggerating, I worry about the food I buy, where I place it in the refrigerator, the way I cook, the way I do dishes, the way I eat food… should I keep my door open, or close it? What will they think if I close it? Should I go in there and tell them I’m going to bed now? What will they think if I don’t? Am I allowed to use this knife/spoon/plate/pot? Do they think I use too much toilet paper? Did I flush the toilet correctly? Do I have to put on my house-slippers if I’m just walking two feet to the bathroom? Am I allowed to put my feet up on my bed like this?

SO. Maybe that’s enough complaining for now. Other than my living situation, everything else is great! I have seen so many interesting sites, and done many fun things, and I still have a decent list of places I need to visit before my last month here comes to an end. I LOVE this city, I truly do. I know when I come home I’m going to miss it, and I know that I’ve got to return here in my near future. I’ll quickly highlight a few of my favorite things that I’ve done for yall.

Our whole group went to an ice hockey game to see Saint Petersburg’s team, called SKA, play, and that night was maybe the best night of my whole time here! After that I went to only one other game, and took my Dad and Sister with me! I really loved being there and rallying for the team, especially since hockey turns out to be such an exciting sport! It makes me want to go to Carolina Hurricane games back at home! We’ll see.

Our group also went to a ballet at the Michaelovsky Theater two weeks ago to see La Bayadere, and it was absolutely beautiful. Prior to going, I had never heard of this particular story and didn’t know what to expect, but it was so fascinating and so beautiful. And tomorrow, Clare, Tasha, Zach, and I are going to see Giselle at the Mariinsky Theater! I am so excited!

The students in my History of Saint Petersburg class and I went on a field trip to the Russian National Library, which was also incredible and beautiful! We got to see many rooms, which are inaccessible to people unless you are on a special tour like us, so it was really neat. We saw a room of rare books, and many original manuscripts of Russian writers! We saw lots of other things too, but it’s hard to remember them all. There is a giant photograph of Lenin at the entrance of one of the rooms because he used to come there to do work, too!

Our group went to Yusopov’s Palace where Rasputin was murdered! It was a fascinating place, and we even went down into the basement where the murder was originally attempted. It was super cool, definitely one of my favorite places we’ve been.

Our group also spent three days in Moscow, which was interesting because of how historic it is. My favorite thing there was seeing the Old Moscow Circus, or Circus Nikulin. Their circuses are very different than ours, but I can honestly say I prefer theirs. We also saw Lenin’s Mausoleum, which was… quite interesting. We also toured the Kremlin.

I also visited the Russian Museum, which was SO cool and truly fascinating. I definitely prefer it to the Hermitage. There, I was introduced to many new artists and worked of art which I previously had not known (ah-hem, art department… we need Modern Art History to be taught), such as Marc Chagall (WOW) and Kazimir Malevich’s The Black Square… so fascinating. Speaking of which, I also visited Kresty Prison (Hi, Mom and Dad, from Russian prison!), where Kazimir Malevich was imprisoned, along with other political prisoners, and people like Leon Trotsky.

So, there’s a quick summary of some of the highlights of my trip in the past month and a half… I’ll try my hardest to write a few more posts before I leave, but we’ll see.

I love yalls responses, so please write me something little if you have the opportunity! I think about everybody all the time, and am looking forward to being home with people that know me… and speak my language.

Love you all!
Shelby

 

Catching Up…

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Hi! I am so sorry for the long delay. I have been keeping busy, but also not having internet where I live has deterred my from writing as often. I think that next week I am going to buy one of those internet hotspot things, so that I can use my phone and computer wherever I am, and won’t continue to be so out of touch. Since I’m about three weeks behind now, I will try not to go into as much detail and instead give you an overview of all my wonderful adventures!

I think that the last time I blogged, I had been to Tsarskoye Selo, where Catherine’s Palace is. That was Saturday the 8th (geez… I’m so behind!). The next day, Sunday, I went to Kazan Cathedral, and the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood. Kazan Cathedral was beautiful on the inside. It is a working church, which in Russia means: 1. It’s free to enter, of course. 2. Men have to take off their hats, and women must cover their heads with a scarf or hood or hat. 3. You’re not allowed to take pictures or use a cell phone while inside.  So, Clare and I went in together, it was a very lovely experience. So many of these churches have incredible gilded icons, which at first, I though was amazing, but on Wednesday, I finished reading Mother by Maxim Gorky (not his real name) and know I feel like it’s…. how can I say? Like, “They have gilded our God” and the church is just pandering to the wealthy upper class. I don’t know. Still, it’s a sight worth seeing, and there is still a long list of cathedrals I plan on visiting. We were only there for probably 15 minutes, and then Clare left me and I went to the Church of the Spilled Blood. Talk about a sight worth seeing. It’s incredibly overwhelming. However, it doesn’t really feel like a church, the way it is decorated on the inside. Every square inch of the interior is covered in very brightly colored mosaics, depicting scenes of the life of Christ or commemorating the life of Tsar Alexander II. It is truly incredible, but being there is more like being at an art gallery than a church. I will post pictures.

On Wednesday the 12th, I invited all of my roommates to come see an opera with me! When I had been in one of the metro stations, I saw a poster for something about Eugene Onegin (Евгений Онегин) at the Mikhaylovskiy Theater (Михайловский Театр), so I looked it up, and it turned out that it was a contemporary opera performance! I also realized that the music was composed by Tchaikovsky (Чайковскйй), so I felt like I had to go, and it turned out that all of my roommates wanted to go too! So on Wednesday afternoon I read Eugene Onegin, the “novel in verse” as it’s called (because it’s a poem the length of a novel) and then we got all dressed up and went to the theater! It was… certainly an experience. I guess I didn’t understand what it meant when they said it was a “contemporary” performance; in this case it meant really strange. There were countless scenes of milk being poured on people heads while they were singing, a small stream of water coming from the ceiling and dripping on their heads, a very small dwarf doing strange things like sitting in a refrigerator, an old man that never did anything relevant, a man dressed kind of in “drag” walking around during a party scene… I was so overwhelmed. During the first intermission, I just had no clue what to think, or what was going on, or how I was supposed to feel about it. During some scenes all of the Russians would laugh, so I suppose sometimes it wasn’t supposed to make sense. But, in the end, I really enjoyed it! It was different, and not at all what I was expecting, but during the last bit of the performance, some of these strange things kind of started to make sense. When it was over, I knew two things: 1. that I loved Tchaikovsky and wanted to go to any performance where he wrote the music, and 2. that I did enjoy opera as a performance itself and would like to go back and see another one sometime! Except, perhaps a period opera rather than a contemporary one. Did I mention that it started at 7:00 and didn’t end until 11:00 and it was a school night? Yeah, we had no idea it would be that long.

Friday the 14th, Valentine’s Day, I went to the Peter and Paul Fortress to see the cathedral there. I wasn’t too thrilled by it. It was neat because some of the members of the Romanov family tombs were there, but the cathedral itself was quite small and not super special in my opinion. That wasn’t a great day for me, so I don’t have much to report on. That evening, Clare, Zack, Tasha and I all went to the grocery store and bought many bags of Russian candy and came home and dumped it all out on the floor and ate it! Most of the time, we had no idea what we were biting into, and Tasha has a nut allergy (though not super severe) so it was interesting and pretty funny to try all these strange candies. Though we did discover a few favorites and now we almost always have candy in the room! It was a nice ending to the day and a good start to the weekend.

On Monday the 17th, one of our resident directors, Matt (from Alabama, married to a Russian woman named Женя, 28 years old) set us up on this little program called “Conversation Partners”, where we signed up to go meet with Russians at a restaurant in town and essentially do “speed dating.” 12 of us Americans and 12 Russian students all agreed to come a talk, and the Americans switched seats every 5 minutes while the Russians stayed seated. At first, I was really nervous to speak to them in Russian. But it turned out that basically I had the same conversation 12 times. They would ask me, “What is your name? How do you spell it? Where are you from? How long have you studied Russian? Why did you come to St. Petersburg? Do you like it here?” It wasn’t bad, but still, I forgot most of what I know how to say and spoke a lot of English, because theirs was all very good. I really connected with one girl named Маша, Masha, who is 23 and lives with her parents either on or near Nevsky Prospect. She is graduating this semester and actually studies at my university! So after conversation partners was over, she and I and some other students all went to dinner together, and I gave her my contact information. I hope to see her again in the next few days!

Wednesday the 19th, all of us students that had applied for a home stay went to meet our families for dinner! I bought my family flowers (цевты – tsevti), as customary before hand. It is tradition to never buy an even number of flowers, because those are only used at funerals, and also not yellow flowers, though I’m not sure why. I bought them 3 flowers, a green and pink and white one, although I can’t remember their names! I will check when I am connected to internet. My family is an older woman named Людмила Александровна Иванова – Lyudmila Alexandrovna Ivanova, who is the owner of the apartment, and her daughter Tatiana, and Tatiana’s daughter whose name I can’t remember. Tatiana’s daughter is only a couple of years older than me, 23 I think, but she wasn’t there that night, so I haven’t met her. Tatiana came and picked me up from the dorm, and brought me to their apartment. It’s at my same metro stop, which is nice that it’s not further way from the center of the city. When I arrived I had to take off my yucky shoes and put on bedroom slippers (тапочки – tapochki) which is customary, and I gave Lyudmila her flowers, which she thought were beautiful and put in a vase! Then I was served dinner, which consisted of three different kinds of “salad” (though not like salad at home), bread with cheese, and small slices of meat. I only tried two of the salads, one I liked and one I didn’t. The salads here are more like what we call chicken salad, or tuna salad, or whatever. It’s a cold salad with different vegetables or meat cut very thin and mixed with vinegar or mayonnaise. I’m not too fond of these salads, usually, but I try to try them anytime one of my friend orders them. I couldn’t tell you what was in the salad I ate that night. When I was finished though, I was very full! But then Lyudmila brought out another serving of food – this time, French fries and a piece of chicken! Hahahah! I laughed when she brought it out to me. The fries were frozen, and I realize now that she puts them in a pan and sort of just heats them up, so they were very soft when she brought them out to me. I think she made them because she has been hosting students for many years, and maybe they expressed how much they love French fries, so now she always makes them. I don’t know. Anyway, after dinner, they brought out a few big photo albums and showed me their family and their friends and places they have been and their old students… and then they brought out this atlas book which was very detailed, so I showed them High Point, and Asheville, and New Smyrna Beach! That was a pretty cool thing for me, to be able to point to my exact city and say that’s where I live. But soon enough, it was time for me to go home. It’s about a 25-minute walk from their apartment to the metro station, and then 35 minutes to the dorm/university. So… not too bad. I think that coming home at night from the metro is going to be the only time that the walk seems long. I forgot to mention that Lyudmila speaks no English, and Tatiana speaks a little, but doesn’t understand my responses very well (and is an elementary school teacher, I think), and then I think that Tatiana’s daughter speaks English, but I’m not 100% sure. I’ll find out when I meet her, I guess!

So, I think that I’ll stop here, and on Sunday I will catch up from Thursday the 20th through Sunday the 2nd. But I will go ahead and mention that yesterday afternoon, Thursday the 27th, I moved in with my family! So far I have only been hanging out with Lyudmila, because (if I understood correctly) Tatiana and her daughter were at the theater last night until very late. Most of the time, I can understand most of what Lyudmila says, but she has a hard time understanding me. She is very sweet to me though, and is always asking me if I need to eat anything or if I want tea. I’ve noticed that sometimes she can be a little forgetful, and will do things like use one spoon to stir a pot, then set it down, then the next time she stirs the pot, she’ll get a new spoon from the drawer; or one time she put a dirty dish back in the cabinet, so I went behind her and washed it when she left the kitchen. I think I’m going to really like living here though! I like my little room and feel like I will be more focused here than I was in the dorm. So all is well, and I’m as happy as can be!

I need to go, but I will catch up again soon, I PROMISE!

Bits About the City

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Hi! Sorry for the long intermission from my last post. I’ve had a fairly busy week. Tomorrow, I will write about that. Right now, I wanted to take time to write about St. Petersburg and little facts about the culture that I have noticed so far.

  1. The stop lights go from red, to yellow, to green. I’m not entirely sure why, but (maybe this is stupid) I’m wondering if it is because: The bus that we rode on for our initial bus tour, and then again when we went to Pushkin, was a manual shift bus (whatever you call it), and when the light would turn yellow, our bus driver would start shifting into gear, and by the time the light turned green, he would go. Maybe there are lots of manual cars in Russia? Maybe it’s because some of their main roads are SO wide (sometimes 6 lanes) that it’s to make sure all the people who were crossing the street have finished crossing before the cars start moving. I have no idea.
  2. Practically all men carry bags. They’re like small leather bags that they wear across their bodies. They’re pretty small, so I have no idea what all they put in there.
  3. When you go to the grocery store, you are asked whether or not you need a bag for your groceries (the other option is carrying them in your arms or whatever you have). If you say yes, they ask you whether you want a big or small one; and then you are charged for the bag. It’s a pretty insignificant amount, but still. Also, they only have plastic bags, no paper, and you bag your own groceries.
  4. Also at the grocery store: You know 6-packs of yogurt? People are allowed to just take one or a few yogurts out of the pack and purchase them individually. Therefore, 1. It is hard to find a complete 6-pack of yogurt because a bunch of them are half empty and 2. The price listed is for each individual yogurt, so when you do find a complete pack and take it to the register to purchase it, they have to scan one bottle of yogurt six times.
  5. Here in St. Petersburg (I’m not sure if this is the case for all of Russia), you can find a lot of familiar brands from home. Things like… Colgate toothpaste, Tide laundry detergent, Garnier Fructis shampoo, Nivea body wash, and Twix, Snickers, M&M’s; also, Heinz ketchup and other sauces (like Heinz Ranch dressing). That’s all I can think of off the top of my head for now, but I always think it’s interesting to see which “American” brands they have.
  6. Okay, you know how everyone knows that Russian’s don’t smile? Well, back in America when I was thinking about this fact, I was expecting everyone to be frowning; I was expecting them to be sad or angry or unpleasant. But that’s not the case at all. People just mind their own business – and that’s it. Russians are just going about their own lives and not concerned about other people around them. I think it’s totally fine.
  7. However, you know when two Russians are a couple because they are so openly affectionate. For some reason I feel like it’s different than “PDA” (public display of affection) back at home, because it’s not gross or uncomfortable to look at. It’s kind of sweet, actually. It’s hard to explain, but I’ve starting taking pictures of people, so you’ll see (eventually).
  8. The metro is SO FAR underground. The escalator that goes up and down to the train is minutes long. I mean many minutes. I haven’t timed it yet, but I will. You can’t even really run down the escalator because you get dizzy and disoriented. You’re like leaning backwards a little to keep your balance, and moving downward, and looking at the ground coming towards you but it’s so far away; it’s like vertigo. And even when you do try to walk briskly down, it STILL takes you a long time to get to the bottom. Although, I LOVE the metro. The stations underground and the cars themselves are so clean, and the ride is mostly relaxing. A lot of the time I do my homework on the metro on the way to see a cathedral downtown or something. Additionally, a lot of the stations underground have some kind of neat artwork on the walls, but I’ll have to look more into that before I talk about it.
  9. The weather: When I first arrived in St. Petersburg, it was snowing, and it snowed almost every day. But now it hasn’t snowed in a quite a few days. They roads and sidewalks are completely clear, so you only really see the snow in parks and on the river and such. Like I’ve said, I don’t have internet at school, so I have no idea what the exact temperatures have been. Everyday I just look out the window and think, “Does it look really cold today?” and then basically depending on my mood, is how I will dress; it’s not really about the weather because I have no clue until I go outside how it will feel! When I first arrived here, I was freezing cold, and I would wear tights underneath my jeans with wool socks, snow boots, a sweater, my warmest coat, a hat, a scarf, and gloves. But now all I wear everyday are jeans, cotton socks with lighter boots, a sweater, and either my heavy coat, or my lighter coat with a scarf. So perhaps it’s warming up; perhaps I’m “getting used to it.” The other thing to consider though, is that all buildings are like 800 degrees. Especially this bank I go into to withdraw money – I go in there and I swear I’m at risk to have a heat stroke. I don’t know why they keep the heat turned up so high in buildings, because when you come in all bundled up from the cold (and you’ve been walking fast to get out of the cold), you’re just sweltering when you get inside. When I’m walking towards the metro, I always start taking off my scarf and unzipping my coat before I get inside because I know that if I don’t I’ll be burning up. One day two weeks ago we saw the sun for the first time! It was glorious. And it hasn’t been back since. It’s always just so cloudy and overcast here.
  10. Other things about the weather and being outside: Their sidewalks are pretty wide, and so two weeks ago when we first got here and would be walking around downtown, a snowplow would come plow the sidewalks while people are walking on it, so you have to get out of the way quick! Also, when it starts to melt, the roads and sidewalks are just completely covered in this disgusting, muddy, snowy slush. So then in places like malls and grocery stores, you’re always seeing people cleaning the floors because people track in so much mud. I think this also contributes to the reason why it is customary to wear house slippers when you are a guest in someone’s home.
  11. A lot of times in my neighborhood, it smells awful outside. I’m not sure why, and it’s not a bad neighborhood. But I’ll regularly be walking down the sidewalk and ugh! Something will just smell so bad… like sewage.

Well… That’s all I can think of for now! As I notice more things, I will tell yall about them. Until next time!

One Week in Санкт-Петербург

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Hi everyone! This evening I’m just going to catch you up on my adventures from the past few days. Tomorrow, I’m going to try to write a post just on the cultural differences and interesting facts about the city that I have noticed in my week here so far.

So, I decided to stay in my Intermediate I language class, because I figured that at least at this level, I know I will be able to handle the work load and not feel nervous in class, and if I wanted to ask my teacher about more advanced grammar rules after class, that would good enough for me. So I’m enjoying it! On Thursday I visited my Contemporary Russian Literature class for the first time. I really like our teacher! She’s a little bit older, but she’s so nice and has a really pleasant personality, and the way she spoke to us on Thursday made me think I’m going to enjoy our lectures. Our first assignment was to read a (very) short story called Shadowed Paths by Ivan Bunin, who was the first Russian writer to win the Nobel Prize for literature. The story was fine, although I’m not quite sure that I understand the meaning of it – yet. Our next assignment will be to read Mother by Maxim Gorky, which is a novel, so I already started reading it because I don’t want to be rushed. On Friday, I went to my Contemporary History of Russia – The Communist Phase class. I think I’m going to switch out of it. History is not a subject I’m good at regularly, and on Friday I was just so lost. Our professor gave the lecture and also had a Power-Point with a few main ideas on the screen, but I couldn’t fully understand what she was saying through her accent, and I couldn’t figure out how each event she talked about related to the last. I also wasn’t even sure if she was talking about things in chronological order. I’m sure she was; nevertheless, I know I’m not going to get what I want out of the class, and I don’t want to feel overwhelmed, so I’m probably going to switch into the History and Culture of St. Petersburg class.

Thursday night, my friend Clare and I decided to go out for dinner at a real Russian restaurant, not just a cafe. So we looked through my St. Petersburg guide book that my professor Dr. Piperato gave me, and picked a place to go, and set out for dinner. The address of the restaurant was supposed to be 50 Nevsky Prospect, and we got off the metro right around that area on Nevsky Prospect. So we crossed the street, saw 48 Nevsky Prospect, walked a little farther and found… 52 Nevsky Prospect. We walked back, didn’t see the restaurant, turned the corner and walked down that street a little, still didn’t see the restaurant, looked across the street… nothing. It was as if 50 Nevsky Prospect doesn’t exist, or else you have to be a wizard and tap some bricks with your wand for it to appear. It was so strange. So we just found a different restaurant right near where we were standing, called Столовая No. 1 – Stoloviya meaning “canteen”, just like at our school cafeteria. So we go inside and sit in the “non-smoking” section, which, you know, really doesn’t mean anything, especially since the rules about where you are allowed to smoke aren’t enforced. And then we go to the dining room area and it’s a buffet just like at school (by “at school” I mean my school here, not HPU) where you tell (read: point to) the people what you want and they hand you your plate of food, and then you go pay for what you ordered, as if it was from a menu; so it’s not “all you can eat.” If that makes sense. Anyway, I ordered rice, and I guess it’s assumed that if you order rice, you are going to have meat with it. So the man making my plate walks over to another area where the meat is and asks me what I want. I point to something that looks like a pork dish we had been served at school before, so he puts one on my plate, and hands it to me. Then I look at the labels on the glass that tell you what the food is, and they were pretty jumbled up, so my three options for what I had just ordered were: “Cutlet with tomatoes” “hedgehog in sauce” or “tongue”. I almost dropped my plate on the floor. I just looked at my food and had no clue what to do. I almost handed my plate back to the guy and told him I didn’t want it. I knew it wasn’t “cutlet” because it didn’t have tomatoes on it. So… I just went with it, and paid for it, and sat down at the table with Clare and told her what I ordered. Oh my lord, you guys… I eventually started hoping that it was hedgehog, as crazy as that sounds, because I just couldn’t stomach the idea of eating a tongue. Blaaaghhhhh. I was quite sure that it wasn’t tongue because it didn’t look like it, so I took some deep breaths and gave myself a pep talk before having my first bite. I was like, “You’re Anthony Bourdain, you can eat anything. You don’t need to be so grossed out by it just because you’ve never had it before. You eat McDonald’s meat, and hotdogs, and who knows what’s in those meats? I least I know what animal this is.” Okay, so then, I ate it! It truly wasn’t bad! It was okay! The flavor really wasn’t that different, and afterwards I gave myself a pat on the back. I couldn’t believe it. All I could think of was yall reading this post and wondering what your reactions would be. I was so proud of myself that I felt like I had earned a dessert. So I go back up to the line of food, and I’m the only customer around.There are two worker men standing less than a foot from me having a conversation, and another lady cleaning the glass. I looked back over at the meat section where I had gotten my food from, and saw some of the labels had been taken away. Now they just said cutlet and “свинина” – pork! I leaned over to the lady cleaning and said “У меня вопрос” – I have a question. She nodded and I pointed at the meat I had ordered and said, “Белый свинина?” – Is the white (stuff) pork? She said yes! I HAD REALLY BEEN EATING PORK THE WHOLE TIME! Oh my gosh you guys. I didn’t know how to feel. I was kind of disappointed that I could no longer brag about having eaten hedgehog, but I was also relieved that I hadn’t eaten hedgehog. Hahahah! So… then I walked over the the dessert area and I stood there, and kept standing there, and ended up standing there for a while and nobody was serving me! I just looked around and started thinking, “Okay, I’m clearly doing something wrong” but I didn’t see a way to get someone’s attention or anything, but then, this intimidating cashier lady shouted at me in Russian, “Do you want dessert?” and I said yes, and she motioned for me to lift up the screen and serve myself! And THEN the girl who had been cleaning the glass came over and lifted it up for me! Oh my gosh, it was horrible. I felt so stupid and so bad for assuming I was supposed to be served. I just didn’t notice those little handles on the screen! I just assumed that I was supposed to be served like the rest of the food was served to us. Ahhhhhhh! So anyway, that was awful and embarrassing, but I got my little honey cake (a traditional Russian dessert) and paid for it, and walked away. I sat down at our table and told Clare what happened and she thought it was hilarious and couldn’t stop laughing! Then I started laughing too which made me feel better. After we had our cake, we looked through the drink menu and saw that at the bar they had Белый русскии – white Russians! I totally thought that was an American drink and that if you tried to order it in Russia, you would be looked at like you were crazy. Then Clare turned the next page of the drink menu and there was a dried up moth stuck in between the pages! We were just in hysterics at this point. Our mindset was this contrasting combination of “What the hell is going on at this crazy restaurant?!” and “This is Russia!” We couldn’t stop laughing for the longest time. Then finally Clare went up to the bar to order her drink, and they told her “нет” – no. Apparently they were out of cream and told her they could make her a черный русскии – black Russian. She wasn’t sure whether or not she wanted one, so the bartender took the long list of drinks and went down the list pointing at each item saying, “нет, нет, нет, да, нет, нет, да, нет…” So apparently they were out of a lot of their alcohol! Clare decided not to have anything, and she came back and told me what happened, and we just laughed even more. After that we decided to head back home before anything else could happen, but we agreed on the metro that that restaurant was “our place,” and it was very Russian, so we decided to go back the next night, Friday, to watch the Olympics!

So last night – Friday – Clare, Zach, Tasha, and I all went back to that same Столовая No. 1 to have dinner and watch the Olympics. This time I had rice and “Hungarian goulash” which was just a meat gravy type of thing, and it was delicious. We were told that the Olympics were going to start at 8:00 p.m., and it was approaching the hour, and guess what they were showing on the televisions? Tom and Jerry (which had also been on the previous night). It was so strange. Clare and I went to the bar to try again to order a white Russian; they were still out of cream and refused to make it with milk because “it is not delicious.” So we got black Russians instead, and went to the coffee area and bought the little creamer packets and made our own white Russians! While we were at the bar, Clare asked the bartender to change the channel to the Olympics and at first he said, “Нет, только Tom and Jerry” (No, only Tom and Jerry) but he said it with a laugh, and told us that they didn’t start until 8:40. But, a few minutes later he came over and changed the channels on all the t.v.’s to the Olympics. Then a few minutes later, this bus-man who was cleaning all the tables came and changed the only t.v. that was facing our table back to Tom and Jerry! We just stared at each other and laughed! I’m telling you, strange things happen at the “stoloviya.” Thankfully the bartender changed it back to the Olympics with just seconds until it was supposed to start, but there was no sound! He didn’t come back to turn the sound on until after they had already started introducing all the countries. So I hope the beginning of it was all lovely, but I wouldn’t know! And on top of all of this, hardly anyone was paying attention! It was as if they didn’t care that the opening ceremony of the winter Olympics being hosted in their country where they will probably win at least a few medals and the whole world was paying attention to this controversial event was on. I must say, I was almost upset. I just had no idea what in the world was going on, and it was so not what I was expecting. There were two guys sitting at the table next to ours, who looked about our age, and they were watching. (The booth that Clare and Zach were sitting on was connected to the booth they were sitting on; it ran all along the back wall.) So after a while, I went and sat in between Clare and this boy and leaned over to him and said, “
Что вы думаете о Olympics?” What do you think about the Olympics? Apparently the guy sitting next to me spoke about as much English as I did Russian, so he leaned over to his friend and answered me, and then his friend translated, “We are not disappointed so far!” They were enjoying it! You would have never guessed that from the look on their faces. Well, that ended up being the ice breaker, and the two of them and the four of us ended up talking and hanging out until almost midnight! The one guy spoke very very good English; he could carry on a conversation with us perfectly, and only a few times forgot a word in English. The other guy couldn’t really speak or understand much English at all (but I’m the same with Russian) so he would ask to be translated to and for the conversation. They explained to us the symbols that were being presented during the Olympic ceremony, and told us what the acts were about. They thought it was beautiful and awesome! And when we would get to talking, the one boy who couldn’t speak any English would turn to us and say, “Смотрим!” “We watch!” Maybe it means something different colloquially, like perhaps just, “Watch!” like a command, but I’m not sure. Either way, we understood and would go back to paying attention. It ended up being a really great experience to meet them, and I was glad we had gone back to that restaurant and had a lot of fun!

Today, our whole AIFS group went to a city, about an hour outside of St. Petersburg by bus, called Ца́рское Село́ – Tsarskoye Selo, or Tsar’s Village. That is the historic name; it is now called Пу́шкин – Pushkin, named after Alexander Pushkin, considered to be the greatest Russian poet, who studied at Tsarskoye Selo Lyceum. We saw the Catherine Place, which has the famous Amber Room, and it was all so incredible. (However, it is not permitted to take pictures in the Amber Room, so I have a post card of that.) Again, overwhelming Baroque style decoration with gold leaf everywhere and other beautiful decorations and architecture. I took lots of pictures, and I think I am going to spend time tomorrow uploading those to a Flickr account, which I will let you all know about as soon as I have it ready. I think I’ll let those pictures speak for themselves, but you could “Google Images” Catherine Palace too. It’s so amazing!

Now, I am starving, so I’m going to head home and hang out with my roommates for the rest of the night and eat something. For those of you that have emailed me, I’m going to try to respond to all of my emails tomorrow! And I will let you all know when pictures are up. Until next time!

First Days in “The Hero City”

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Hi everyone!

I know I keep saying it, but I’m so happy to see so many of you following and commenting on my blog! It makes me feel more connected to home to hear from you and know that you are reading, so I really appreciate it. :)

I’m sorry it has taken me so long to update, but finding wireless internet around my neighborhood has been difficult. It was supposed to be available to us in the common room of our dorm, but I have never been able to connect to it, so I’ve had to make an effort to find a place. So guess where I am currently typing this post? Макдоналдс. That’s McDonald’s, incase you couldn’t guess. Hahaha! I find it ironic.

Anyway! So, I really don’t have too much to report on so far. (By the way, it is 9:00 p.m. Wednesday here.) We arrived in St. Petersburg on Saturday afternoon, and for the first three days, our schedules were pretty filled up for us from morning to evening, and only in the past couple days have we finally had free time and allowed to be on our own. On Sunday we took a three hour bus tour of the city, which again was very informative, but she told us so much about the history of the city that’s it’s hard to remember specific things. However, our tour guide is the one who told us another nickname for St. Petersburg is “The Hero City” for lifting the Siege of Leningrad (the Soviet name for St. Petersburg) in 1944.

Until Monday, all the meals I ate were in the school cafeteria, which they call the “canteen.” There are 25 of us students here in St. Petersburg and during those days we were all served at one long table, like a banquet, which was interesting. I enjoyed it though, because we ended up sitting next to different people every time. For breakfast (along with things like yogurt and cereal and pastries) we were served каша (kasha); imagine a hot cereal that looks like grits, but more liquid-y, with much smaller grains, and very very sweet. I tried so hard to enjoy it, but I just truly did not like it. I can’t explain why. There’s something about the sweetness and texture that just didn’t sit well with me. I tried to finish my whole bowl of it because I thought maybe I would get used to the flavor, but… I just don’t know. I’m afraid of what I will do if my home-stay “mom” serves it to me. Breakfast pastries are also a popular thing here. We’ve had many different kinds, and I’m not sure of their names, but my favorite so far is similar to a cinnamon bun, but without the icing. The bread was served warm and was so soft and cinnamon-y… yumm!

Lunch and dinner meals are pretty similar. We were usually served a plate of raw овощи (ohvashe-vegetables) like cabbage, cucumbers, red peppers, and tomatoes; a bowl of soup like борш или щи (borsh or she); и мясо и рис (and meat and rice). About borsh: there are all different kinds of borsh, so I would like to try it more in the future. But the one bowl I have had so far I did not like. It tasted just like pickled beets, except in soup form, which I must say I wasn’t expecting. It was cold, but borsh is also served hot, and with different vegetables in it, so I want to give it another go. I did not try the “she,” which is cabbage soup, but only because I was late to dinner that night. The vegetable  and meat soup is always very flavorful and hearty, but the meat normally has bones in it, which I can get past, but it’s a pain to constantly be spitting bones out during a meal. Since we’ve been on our own, I’ve been having breakfast in my room (just a банан и йогурт [banana and yogurt]) and lunch I still eat in the cafeteria. My roommates and I usually eat a light dinner, so there’s not much to say there yet.

The water in St. Petersburg is not drinkable. Even the locals do not drink it. It has a bacteria in it that will of course make one very very sick, so everyone must always drink bottled water. It’s okay to brush teeth and shower with, however it smells and tastes so rotten. Ugh, it’s disgusting. Some days seems worse than others.

About my общежитие (obshejiteyeh-dorm): I share a bedroom with one girl, and which is connected to a kitchen, bathroom, and shower room that we share with another bedroom (aka., a suite). I like our little dorm! There’s nothing really special about it; I think it’s cozy, and I feel settled in. My roommate is a girl named (guess what!) Shelby! She is from Minnesota, and is in the ROTC program there. We work really well as roommates and she is very nice. My suite-mates are Tasha (who is not Russian, and neither is her family) from Texas, and Clare from Michigan. Tasha and Claire and a boy named Zach and I all hang out together often and have a great time! I know that when it’s time to move into my home-stay, I’m going to miss being so close to them all the time, but we’ll still see each other often.

On Monday we took our placement test for the language class, and I placed into Intermediate I. This class will be a review of what I learned through my four semesters at HPU, which I think is okay with me. I’m afraid I won’t learn anything new, I will only be refreshed of what I already learned, but perhaps that’s better for me. My class only has three other students in it, and they’re all AIFS students; we have never really had an opportunity to meet other international students (most of whom are of Asian descent (is that the P.C. way to say it?)) which I suppose is alright, but not what I was expecting. My teacher is so nice; I really enjoy having class with her. We have not been to our elective classes yet.

Вчера (vchera-yesterday) I went to the St. Petersburg Mosque! You should “Google Images” it. It is so beautiful – on the outside, as I discovered. It is currently under construction, so I was told I may not be allowed inside. Nevertheless, I did find the entrance, and saw someone go inside before me, so I knew it was okay for me to go. I had to take my shoes off on the steps at the entrance, and cover my head with a scarf. The inside was not what I was expecting after learning about so many beautiful mosques in my Art History I class; it was mostly white with minimal artwork on the walls. There was also no light in there (is that typical of mosques?) so it was quite dark. There were a few people praying when I went inside, so I didn’t stay long. I came back out and admired the outside of the building, which has all those wonderful blue tiles and took my time taking pictures. And that was my first St. Petersburg excursion!

Сегодня (seevodneh-today) our whole group went to the Hermitage! (Which is FREE to students!) The Hermitage Museum is divided up into five different buildings, which are all connected: the Winter Palace, the Small Hermitage, the Old Hermitage, the New Hermitage, and the Hermitage Theater, and I’m pretty sure it’s in that order. We had a tour guide take us through the major rooms, which took about 2 1/2 hours, I’m pretty sure. It’s just absolutely overwhelming and incredible. The rooms themselves in the Winter Palace are works of art. The ceilings are painted or have gilded designs on them, the chandeliers are очень (ohchin) beautiful, the floors were made of beautiful – apparently rare – wood and had designs on them. Everywhere you looked there was decoration. One of my favorite rooms is called the Pavilion Hall in the Small Hermitage. It was white with gold designs, and in the middle of the room was this unbelievable clock that’s absolutely gigantic and ornate. I can’t describe it. You’ll just have to come to St. Petersburg and see it for yourself! Later on we saw artwork by all the popular artists throughout time, but my friends and I decided while we were there that we needed to come back and take the time to see what we wanted without the big group.

One thing I forgot: during our bus tour on Sunday, we briefly went inside the St. Nicholas Naval Cathedral. It truly took my breath away; it was just so unexpected and amazing inside. Again, it was more gilded designs, but just everywhere. I just can’t describe it… imagine walking into a room covered in gold. “Google Images” this one too. It’s so amazing.

Well… It’s now almost 10:30, and I still have homework to do. Now that I’ve filled you in on the important parts of the week, I will finish it here! I hope you all are doing well! Until next time!

“…when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life…”

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Hello all! I have a lot to report on for today, so here it is:

This morning all AIFS students were woken with a wake up call at 7:30 in the morning, as we were to go down to breakfast in the hotel and then be ready to leave for our London tour by 8:50 a.m. So that’s what we did, and by 9:00 we were off on a bus tour of the city. Our tour guide was named Sean and he was a great guide; he was funny and made the early trip that much more enjoyable. I really can’t remember much specifically about where all we went or what we learned because Sean was overwhelming us with information. But he told us about the Queen and the royal family and their other residences and such like that. He told us about the history of certain areas of the city and various monuments. He also told us about famous people that lived or died in London, like “Michelangelo, Leonardo, Paul McCartney-o…” Ha ha ha. The first stop where we got off the bus was at St. Paul’s Cathedral at 10:00; we heard the bells chime the hour, which I thought was special and beautiful. Sean explained the architecture and symbolism of the cathedral, and it was truly amazing. It made me realize again just how much I love art and art history and how much it excites me, so I was so happy to be there. We couldn’t go inside the cathedral though because it was closed off to the public for reasons that I can’t remember. However, we got to go around the back and downstairs to see the coffin of Admiral Nelson, which was a little underwhelming, to be honest… Anyway, after that, we got back on the bus and headed to Buckingham Palace to see the Changing the Guard ceremony at 11:00! (or, 11:13, I think, to be more specific. That’s what Sean said). We didn’t stay for the whole thing because Sean said “it takes the better part of an hour” and we wanted to move on to see other things. I will try to upload the little video I got on my phone of the part we saw.

So now to the awesome part of my day:

A small group of us students wanted to be dropped off at Westminster Abbey instead of Convent Garden, so we were taken there right before 12:00 (and said goodbye to the rest of the tour). The group of us got off the bus and started walking towards the Abbey, but basically all of them got ahead of me and this boy I was walking with, and then before I knew it, I saw them practically run past the entrance to the Abbey and towards Parliament instead. When I got to the entrance of the Abbey, I saw that it was 15 pounds to go inside, and so the boy I was with and I decided to go inside (I mean, I was going to anyway). But when we started doing the tour inside, he went through faster than me, and before long I was on my own, which was perfectly fine. So for the next 2 and a half hours, I walked through Westminster Abbey and it was… oh my gosh. Absolutely breathtaking. The ceiling rose so high up that it made me feel so small, and the stained-glass windows were so colorful and beautiful, and the Henry VII Lady Chapel was so regal and ornate! I was overwhelmed and elated to be there, and take in everything there was to see and learn. There were employees (I’m not sure if they had special names) standing around if you wanted to ask them questions that weren’t covered in the audio tour, and I ended up asking the same man questions on two different occasions just by happenstance (I didn’t realize he was the same guy until he made a joke like, “More windows?” or something like that, which was totally what I was going to ask about). After the second time I asked him a question and walked away, a minute later he snuck up beside me, unlocked a rope that was guarding a restricted section and told me to head up the stairs. At first I didn’t realize he was talking to me, but then I looked at him and he gestured for me to go ahead of him, so I did! Up this short flight of stairs was a little room where I had a better view of some of the coffins that held kings and queens of the past, and housed the chairs (decorated and with their crest on it, of course) that are only for the King and Queen to use when they come to a ceremony in Westminster! Apparently there are still prayer services held in this room too, so there was a pulpit and  few other seats around, and in the middle was another coffin I’m pretty sure, but I can’t remember whose it was. Anyway, that was super amazing and I was so excited! Then Dino, the guy, led me back downstairs and told me that if I came back to the Abbey before 4:30, he would save me a seat in the choir, where I could listen to the Westminster Abbey Choir sing during the Evensong service that evening! All I had to do was come through the front of the chapel and ask for him by name!  :D   But today was also the day of my tea time, and I didn’t want to miss it, so I told him I would certainly come back.

By this time, it was 2:30, and my reservation was for 3:00, and I didn’t want to be late for tea! So I RAN as fast as I stinkin could through the rain (did I mention it’s been dreary and rainy ever since I arrived in London? Typical.) and navigated my way through the Underground all by myself and made it to Piccadilly Circus! Then I walked very briskly down Piccadilly (street?) forever and then finally asked someone if I was going the right way, which I was. When I eventually arrived at the hotel (the Athenaeum Hotel) I was between 5 and 10 minutes late and was burning up and so sweaty and rain wet and felt disgusting in this beautiful place. I went to the restroom and freshened up and felt a little better, and then headed back to my table for one and ordered my tea. I got Jasmine tea and it was absolutely delicious. They also brought me a tray of treats! I’ll post a picture of that too. This whole tea-time thing is clearly meant for two, so I couldn’t eat everything even if I had sat there for two hours. But I had scones with lemon curd, and a little sandwich that I think had ham in it, and a delicious fruit tart, and a rose meringue! Oh my goodness it was all so good. But I was so nervous about it all because it was in this beautiful, very very quiet place, and there was a fork sitting at my plate I had never seen before, and I wasn’t sure if there was a certain way I was supposed to eat scones! So I asked my waiter and waitress like a million questions and attempted to eat these tiny foods with as much finesse as I could, knowing I really had less than hour to do this thing if I wanted to get back to Westminster in time. So I drank my tea and tasted everything and sat for just a little while and tried to enjoy what was going to be about a $55 tea-time. But I finally had to go at 4:00 and they packaged all my food up for me and gave me the bill. It was 33 pounds, and 15% of that was about 5 pounds, so I rounded up to 5.50 because I felt like I wasn’t tipping enough for how fancy it was, so I ended up tipping almost %17 percent, which brought my bill to 38.5 pounds = 63 dollars for tea and scones. At the time, it hurt a little to spend that much on tea, but I didn’t have time to think about it because I had to sprint through the rain back to the Underground to Westminster. 

I eventually made it, sweaty and so hot and rainy all over again, and attended the service and listened to the choir and got to sit up there with them! I wasn’t the only one sitting there, but everyone else who was sitting in the choir had to wait 30 minutes outside in the rain for an un-guaranteed seat in the choir, whereas I went to a different entrance and told the marshals I was there to see Dino, and I went right inside the Abbey and was seated before anyone else! The singing of the choir was beautiful and amazing, and to attend a church service in such an incredible, historic cathedral was really something I will treasure. I wondered during the service if people back in the 11th century had a similar feeling about being in that cathedral during a service. It only lasted about thirty minutes, and when it was over, I was absolutely exhausted. So I said goodbye and thank you to Dino, and got on the Underground to head back to the hotel.

When I was riding the train back to the hotel, I was thinking more about how much I paid for the tea, and sort of without considering it, I asked a guy standing beside me how much a typical tip for tea is. Apparently, it’s between 5-10%…. not 15-20% like in America! Ahhhh! Oh my gosh. I think I just stared at him for a second. Oh well… I mean, it was delicious, and I still have all my food left over (even though it’s all scrambled up now because I was sprinting with it), and it was in a nice place and everything was delicious and the waiters and waitresses were so nice to me. So I guess it was worth it. But from now on, I know better! Oops! Oh well.

Now it is almost 10:00 p.m. and I’m still exhausted and have to walk back to the hotel because I’m currently sitting in a Starbucks for the free unlimited Wi-Fi. I’m sorry if this post is too long and not making much sense, but I really had an incredible day and it feels good to share it with yall. So let me know if this is way too much information and I’ll try to keep it to a limit from now on. Keep reading and commenting! It makes my day to see the comments from yall when I’m feeling tired and lonely. Tomorrow at 5:30 a.m. we leave the hotel for St. Petersburg, so I will post again soon! Until next time!

P.S. Sean told us this quote during our tour, and it is by Samuel Johnson, a famous English writer who happens to be buried in Westminster Abbey in the Poet’s Corner!

London Update

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Hi all! I’m so happy to see so many of yall following and commenting on my blog! So keep the comments coming because I love reading what yall think! I have less than 30 minutes of free Wi-Fi here in my hotel, so I’ll try to sum up my past few hours quickly.

I guess I should begin by stating that it is currently 11:45 p.m. on Thursday night here in London and my hotel is right beside the Chelsea football stadium, so that’s pretty cool I think! I arrived at the hotel around 11:30 this morning from the Heathrow airport, where I met one other boy going to Russia (from Colorado) and then 2 boys and 3 girls going to Cannes, France. There are probably almost 50 of us AIFS students staying in this hotel, with about half of us going to Russia and the other half to Cannes. We didn’t get to check into our rooms until 2:00, so until then, the 7 of us walked to a nearby “pub” called Oyster Rooms and had lunch. Interesting fact: A “traditional breakfast” at this pub came with a sunny side up egg, a sausage link, some strange looking bacon, hashbrowns, and baked beans. Also, did yall know Stella Artois makes a hard cider? I did not. I found that out at this pub as well. We just sat at our table and chatted until about 1:30. Then by 2:00 most of the people coming to London had arrived at the hotel, and we were matched up with our temporary roommates and given our room keys. My roommate is from Dallas, but she lived in Russia until she was 13! One thing I have learned since speaking with other people on my trip is that we are all coming from really different backgrounds as far as our schooling and cultural experiences go, but we have mostly similar goals while we are in Russia.

Anyway, after we checked into our room, we took a nap (of course) and then at 6:00 we had a meeting with all the other students and our London AIFS director (who is French). She told us about our itinerary for tomorrow, and then we were free to explore the city and on our own for dinner. Somehow I became the coordinator of our Russia group and got everybody together to make a plan for dinner! So we picked a time to reconvene, and then decided to go to the SoHo district to find a place to eat. We went on the London Underground and finally made our way to SoHo, which reminded me a lot of New York City and especially Times Square. Went we got there, our big Russia group split up into two smaller groups (and I haven’t seen the others since; my roommate is still not back) and attempted to find a place for dinner. But every where we went was pretty crowded and pretty expensive, so we just walked around for a while and then took the Underground back to our neighborhood and had dinner at the same Oyster Rooms restaurant. Awesomely, Thursday night is “Curry Club” night at the restaurant, so I had Chicken Korma that came with naan and mango chutney and it was delicious (10 more minutes till free Wi-Fi is up!) and it came with a drink included in the price, so I tried a Guinness! I had about three sips of the Guinness before I gave up. But the food was excellent and I ate every bite on my plate because I hadn’t eaten since I was in JFK on Wednesday night (sorry Mom). Then my little friend group and I just sat and chatted for a while about Russia of course. Some of the people in my group have already been there before. A lot of other people have at least travelled outside of the country. But all in all, everyone seems pretty agreeable and I can certainly start to tell who I think I would get along with the most.

Now I’m back in my room, showered, and ready for sleep. I’ll probably write again tomorrow! I have to go for now before I get charged for internet. Until next time!

“Why Russia?” and other FAQ’s

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I suppose I should begin by answering some questions that I have been asked many times when telling people my plans for going abroad. Questions such as:

  • “Russia?! (With a brief second of silence and staring). Why in the world do you want to go there?”

I chose Russia for many reasons. I have known since high school that I wanted to go abroad when I came to college. I also knew that wherever I went, I wanted to study the language first. At the time, I was studying Classical Latin, and had been since I was in 7th grade. I wanted a change; I wanted to go somewhere “non-traditional”, and learn an entirely new language. I had no desire to go somewhere I thought was common, like England, France, Italy, or even Germany. I just wanted to do something different. So then I began considering what non-Latin based languages there were to learn. I eventually came across Russia and Russian language, and things just started to click. My grandmother had travelled to Russia in the 90’s, and I remembered seeing photos of those unique, beautiful churches, and thought about how amazing it would be to see them in person. I realized I could read and learn about Russian literature, ballet, and art – things I had been briefly introduced to at various points in my life but didn’t know much about. I had no problem with cold, snowy weather and thought it would be fun to go in the wintertime! Russian language was also one of the official languages of the United Nations, so I knew it was a relevant, practical language to learn. So that was that. From then on, I had my mind set on going to Russia. It’s been my dream for maybe four or five years now.

  • “Have you studied Russian language?”

Yes. I took 4 semesters of Russian language through my first two years of college. My teacher, Mrs. Svetlana Krylova, was from Moscow and moved to the U.S. I think about 20 years ago. (However, HPU no longer offers Russian language.) I’m very rusty on my language skills though, because I haven’t studied it since the Spring of 2013. I plan on studying hard before I leave because I am going to be taking a placement test to decide what level of language class I will be placed in in Russia, and I hope to be in an upper level class.

  • Do you know anybody else going to Russia?

No. There is no one else from my school, or even North Carolina, using my same program to study abroad in Russia this semester. There are 25 students in my program (including me), and we will meet in London two days before we head to St. Petersburg, so I will get to meet them then.

  • “Will you be taking classes in Russia?”

Yes. I will be taking 3 classes: Russian Language (for 9 credits), Contemporary Russian Literature (for 3 credits), and Contemporary History of Russia – the Communist Phase (for 3 credits). My language class will be taught in Russian, while my electives will be in English.

  • “Aren’t you going to be cold/freeze?” “What is the average temperature there?” etc.

According to World Weather Online, the average high temperature for the month of February is 28 degrees Fahrenheit, and the average low is 14 degrees. Have I ever experienced temperatures that cold? No, at least not for an extended period of time. I am sure I will be cold. But I do know that Russian buildings and homes have heat, and very good heating systems from what it seems. There are many places where you are absolutely not allowed to wear winter coats inside (such as theaters and museums, and others) and I’m sure that wouldn’t be the case if people were going to be cold. I am doing the best I can to prepare for the cold weather and the snow, but if the things I buy here are not sufficient for Russian weather, I can always buy clothes there. The weather is not something I am concerned about. I plan on posting pictures of my outfits so that people can get an idea of what it’s like to walk around Russia in February-May.

  • “(after more pauses…) Well, you better be really careful over there. Did you see in the news recently about how some Russian did XYZ and it could happen to you too?”

I am going to be very, very careful while I am in Russia. Russia is a little bit “unknown,” as my mom likes to put it, and while I’m being not naive about the dangers of being there “on my own,” I don’t think it’s as scary or threatening as others do. Saint Petersburg is very westernized, and is in fact considered to be a European city. It is known as the “Window to the West” and the “Venice of the North” and the “Cultural Capital of Russia.” I see it as being just like any other big city in Europe, except that it just happens to be in Russia. I would like to imagine that I’m going to go over there and have a wonderful time going to museums and getting to know the language and the culture; not fearing for my life for three solid months.

  • “In America, you can always find a party; in Russia, party always finds you!” Or any other Yakov Smirnoff imitation joke.

Hilarious. Never heard that one.

  • “I hope you like beets and vodka!”

I happen to know that Russia does in fact have more to eat and drink than beets and vodka, and I’m excited to go there and try all kinds of new things. It’s another one of those things that I’m not worried about. I know that there is pressure to drink with Russians, but it is only because their culture is to go above and beyond for their guests, and to run themselves dry to make sure their guests are comfortable and have plenty to eat and drink. One can say no to numerous offers to drink without being offensive.

That’s all I can think of for now. Until next time!

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